Friday, April 17, 2015

Book review: Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf

Many people know Naomi Wolf from her wildly famous feminist novel, The Beauty Myth. Looking for books on the experience of motherhood last year, I stumbled across this book and was thrilled to read more about Naomi's personal observations of becoming a mother. 

This book had some really remarkable reflections that I could really relate to, as a modern woman and mother. It talked about the general misinformation given to pregnant women, the tricky way to break gender roles within a marriage regarding child-rearing, the work/life balance, and hiring babysitters.

Here are some quotes from the novel that really spoke to me:

"As miraculous and fulfilling as [motherhood] is, it is also under-supported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women's expense."

"Not only are we inadequately informed about what pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood really involve, we also lack freedom to describe what we have seen for ourselves along the way. The culture often insists on our keeping the full range of our feelings and discoveries a secret."

"Becoming a mother requires a kind of supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit. Yet our culture prefers to give women doggerel: it often suggests that motherhood is something effortless."

"Many women feel permitted to ask a few questions; we too often blame ourselves, or turn our anger inwards, into depression, when our experience is at odds with the ideal."

"Giving birth is natural - but "becoming a mother" in its deepest sense is NOT exclusively natural. It is a far greater work of stoicism, discipline, patience, and will than the ideology of 'motherhood' allows for"

"[In the West], we deny the many symbolic deaths a contemporary pregnant woman undergoes: from the end of her solitary self-hood, to the loss of her pre-maternal shape, to the eclipse of her psychologically carefree identity, to the transformation of her marriage, to the decline of her status as a professional or worker."

"The greatest loss for many new mothers is a kind of loss of self."

"[Motherhood] is especially hard for women who have struggled to be independent and self-reliant. At the birth of a first child, the expectations of our generation can collide with what is too often a radical social demotion in a culture dismissive of mothers and babies."

"It began to become clear to me that babies were part of a currency system. And I began to wonder: What is this baby for? That is: What is its meaning, its value? I thought we were just having a baby, but it seemed that fetuses and babies stood in for so many other things, many of them abstract: freedom, wealth, values, lifestyle, identity."

"[Being pregnant] was the most solitary journey I'd ever undertaken."

"My life as a mother had become just what I'd feared. My delight in our child was absolute. At the same time, I experienced a tightening of the world's circumference; I was chained to the couch, nursing; I was stunned with fatigue; I was a vast primate of flesh - none of the weight gained in pregnancy had 'melted away'. I had become all the things I was afraid I would be."

"Every day I was getting the message that the work [mothers] do had little value."

"I received one tough lesson after another in my sharp demotion of status. So many new mothers I spoke to felt, as I did, a sense of acute social demotion that came with motherhood. From both men and women, from young babysitters to plumbers to cable installers, I noticed a new flippancy in relation to my time: it was newly valueless. People who would never take for granted that my husband should sit around waiting for them seemed to assume that I had nowhere to go or nothing important to do."

"An American woman's main source of postpartum support, her husband, typically returns to work in a culture without mandated paid or parental leave, two weeks postpartum - exactly when the new mother is supposed to be feeling a lift from the 'blues'. But the combination of the husband returning to work, the sleepless nights, the lingering effects of hormonal plunge, the aching body, and a demand to single-handedly care for a new baby, can send many women into a downward spiral."

"One primary cause of the high rate of postpartum grief in our society is a social isolation. Though the women I knew in Washington gathered in the playgrounds, there was still plenty of time every day when we were alone in our homes with our babies; and during the day, most of the baby work was usually done by two hands - ours."

"Most other non-Western cultures believe that the healthiest mother-baby bond depends on the community of women doing everything possible to mother the new mother, so that she herself can focus on becoming a mother to her newborn."

"Add them up: the low status we assign to mothering; the high value our culture places on a girlish figure; the isolation of today's nuclear family; the workplace pressure that sends husbands away from home when their partners need them the most; the absence of ritual that would allow the mother to mourn her lost self....and the overall censorious whitewash of the whole experience - the surprise should not be how many new mothers are depressed postpartum in our society, but rather how many, in spite of all this, do well."

"I was starting to notice in men in similar situations: an unconsciousness that was also deeply useful. I noticed a kind of 'default mode' that many of the supposedly 'new men' we knew fell into. With the arrival of the baby, in spite of their best intentions, perhaps, they were slipping back into the cultural roles with which they had grown up."

“I thought of how many women told me dispiritedly about how their husbands waited for them to ask—or to make a list—and how demoralizing that was for them. I could not help thinking that there was some element of passive aggression in this recurrent theme of nice men, good, playful dads, full of initiative and motivation at work, who “waited to be asked” to do the more tedious baby-related work at home, until the asking was finally scaled back or stopped.”

"I had wanted us to be a mother and father raising children side by side, the man moving into the world of children, the woman into the world of work, in equitable balance, maybe each working flexibly from home, the two making the same world and sharing the same experiences and values. The extra shift, a part-time shift, I had thought dreamily when I was young, would be taken up by some kind of additional, nurturing, community-based care, one that I had - deliberately? - never peered closely enough into the future to try to realistically assess or even really imagine."

"I was loving the moment and my baby with all my heart. I did indeed melt with joy in her. Yet in that joy was exhaustion, and frustration, too, about the life I found I was living, that I had both chosen and not chosen."

"If men released one another to put fatherhood first and eased up on their rigid workplace judgments of themselves and their peers; then surely fatherhood, as well as family life as a whole, would be strengthened."

“It is not biology alone but heroism too that drives women to find the will and grit and creativity to put one’s own impulses aside to serve the needs of a tiny creature around the clock—especially in an environment in which that heroic choice is only casually acknowledged, much less honored, cherished, or assisted. I believe the myth about the ease and naturalness of mothering—the ideal of the effortlessly ever-giving mother—is propped up, polished, and promoted as a way to keep women from thinking clearly and negotiating forcefully about what they need from their partners and from society at large in order to mother well, without having to sacrifice themselves in the process.” 

"We need to ask the question: What do mothers deserve if they are to mother well? We need to answer: Everything."

Click on the link above to purchase the book or add it to a wish list.


Dear readers, which quotes speak to you? Can you relate?



  1. "Most other non-Western cultures believe that the healthiest mother-baby bond depends on the community of women doing everything possible to mother the new mother, so that she herself can focus on becoming a mother to her newborn."
    I have no idea what non-Western culture she is talking about.
    This non-Western 'community of women' doing everything possible to 'mother the new mother' is usually the MIL making any & all decisions for DIL & baby & essentially treating DIL like chattel.
    It's not just India, but nearly all of Asia & Africa too.
    The thing that was most disturbing about becoming a mom for me was that my body became 'public property' so like anybody & everybody could come up & say ANYTHING to me about my body- like I had become some brainless 'thing' to be scrutinized & advised.
    Actually, that's been my main gripe about being a woman in ANY culture, the inappropriate & invasive comments about my body- but it gets 10x worse when you're pregnant & showing.
    And I've been in women's healthcare for 20 yrs., in several cultures.

  2. I totally agree with you Bibi. I am married but not yet a mother, but have seen my sisters and friends being through the process and it was traumatic just watching them. The so called care if done in the right manner is very good and provides support, but from what I have seen it is anything but that. My very close friend's MIL came down to "help" her with child birth and the amount of fuss this lady created made me want to kill her. This MIL had a problem with the way the kitchen was organized, the way my friend wanted some help from her husband, basically she had a problem with the entire existence of my friend and not to forget the constant comparison with her SIL.

  3. I can relate all of these quotes. While it was my choice to have a child, it has been one of the hardest, yet most fulfilling experiences of my life thus far. My son is 10 1/2 months old right now. I think what I have found to be the hardest thing to accept so far is what pregnancy did to my body. I have really struggled to lose my pregnancy weight. In fact, I have gained weight after having the baby! I think it's really because I'm so stressed out with raising him and working full-time...though that will be changing soon as I am planning to resign at my job so that I can be a stay-at-home mom for a little while. Working full-time and raising a small baby is tough! Keep in mind I am an American woman who only had 6 weeks of maternity leave and returned to work after a long and rough delivery that took me months to recover from. In fact, my body still does not feel completely recovered as I feel fatigued all of the time. Also, I constantly feel unattractive and frumpy. I'm trying to work on this so my self-esteem no longer feel so low.

    1. Same here. Baby T is one year old and I still feel tired and can't lose weight even with a diet. Taking maternity leave was a very good decision for me.

      However trying motherhood can be, I think it is also very rewarding and feel blessed to have had normal pregnany and delivery nuisances and to have a " normal " child. It breaks my heart when I hear about friends whose kids have health issues. (Pad)

  4. I'm sorry for the very late comment on this one, but I've been wanting to comment and so here it is.

    I am the mother of a six year old daughter. After I had my daughter, I went through some pretty severe postpartum depression for which I was unable to get any kind of help due to our economic circumstances at that time. During this time I felt certain things very strongly:

    1) The people who were hardest on me during the time after birth were other women. These women judged my decisions instead of empathizing. Every single one of these women was also a mother.
    2) There is very little open and honest talk on what motherhood is really like. I often found myself shut out of conversations when I stated how I really felt. I did not enjoy the first two years of motherhood at all and I am very, VERY glad that those two years are behind me. I enjoy my daughter more now than when she was a baby.
    3) Very few women will actually talk about all the changes your body goes through. We all know about breast tenderness and craving, but what about the vaginal discharge, the shape and color of your stool during and after pregnancy, and just how hard it is to defecate after giving birth, especially when your vagina has stitches? Don't even get me started on the other stuff.
    4) Motherhood is supposed to be a blessing. Why doesn't it feel like one? Instead all I feel is rundown, fatigued, overworked, and overlooked. I really wish more people talked about this because I think these not so positive feelings would lessen with honest communication.
    5) We need to get motherhood off of the pedestal and agree to disagree, be honest, and to each their own.

    Sorry for rambling but thank you for letting me.



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